skip to main content

Academic Outreach

Faculty Focused

5 Simple Course Design Tips

Posted on: February 16th, 2016 by parishwetabhatt

1. Be Human

We have all called customer service centers only to encounter a robotic voice guiding us through endless menu options. Eventually, we press a number to “talk to a representative” and must now listen to a marching band or a slew of ads touting how great their establishment is Welcomeand how they love their customers for what seems like an eternity during which we fold our laundry, make a sandwich and watch half a Seinfeld episode. Finally, there’s a switch and a human voice asks us “How can I help you today?” Remember the relief and excitement to finally be connected to that human who will guide us and take us through to the other side? That’s the feeling you want to instill in your students so they feel connected, relieved and supported throughout your online course.

Being human is easy! Create a Welcome Video for your students, introducing students to your course and to yourself. Let your personality shine through. Students will then be able to associate a face (and even your voice and tone) to your name, so when you email them or give them written feedback on that assignment, they will almost be able to hear you talk to them. Consider giving audio feedback instead of written feedback to save yourself time and make the feedback more personal. Send out holiday wishes or a “Hotty Toddy” every now and then in addition to assignment deadlines and exam reminders.

A picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a thousand pictures, and a human is worth a library of books, pictures and videos. Be human!

2. Have Fun

Who says teaching and learning has to be serious all the time? Yes, we love our own area of interest. Yes we want to share it with our students as much as we can all the time and show them the light! And perhaps persuade them to become our own grad students and minions that we can assign work to… Silhouette of girls dancingbut I digress.

The point is, it is okay to let your hair down sometimes and just have some fun. Instead of the usual weekly discussion, why not have a fun discussion asking students to post a photo of their pets, or their favorite activity, place, or person and share a related story? Not only would it be a pleasant surprise for them, and a fun, no-stakes activity, but they also get to interact with each other more authentically and start seeing each other as real people with real interests and personalities. It’s the next best thing to getting a snow day! Especially since there are no snow days online.

We have all heard of K-12 students performances improving when they have more recesses and play time. The same goes for college students juggling five classes, a personal life, maybe a part-time job, and for some, being away from home and family for the first time. Throw them a few fun activities every now and then and see the difference. If nothing else, you will get great evaluations. Have fun!

3. Go Where They Are

Your students are not just on campus, at their home, or at “The Library” (what a brilliant name for a sports-bar by the way). They are constantly plugged in and connected to their personal, social, and even learning networks. They can be answering texts from mom, while reading an article on Donald Trump’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize (are you kidding me?), while getting notifications on Facebook on their cute selfie, while getting ready to video-chat with their best-friend who’s studying abroad in Spain this year. Social media icon in a treeThe good news is we all have a super computer in our pockets that can do all these things too!

While it’s okay to have virtual office hours and give out your work phone number (and hope to the powers-that-be that students never call you), take it a step further and go where they are! Create a private Facebook page and invite students to ask you questions on there instead of in Blackboard. Or, hold a Google+ Hangout session and ask students to bring their favorite non-alcoholic beverage and do a virtual video chat with you in a group or one-on-one. Start a twitter hashtag (#myprofisthebest) and encourage students to tweet about ideas, resources, projects they find interesting and tag them.

In short, go where they are and you will find that students are much more likely to open up and engage from their comfort zone. And greater their engagement, greater their motivation, higher their retention, and higher their grades… maybe that’s too optimistic! But, it can certainly start a domino effect. Go where they are and see where it takes you!

4. Switch It Up

“Variety is the very spice of life. That gives it all its flavor.” – William Cowper, ‘The Task’ (1785)

We pretty much live by this mantra in our lives daily. Who wants to watch the same movie over and over (unless it’s “The Birdcage” or “A League of Their Own”)? Or take the same route on our daily jog? Today at 7 pm I may want to watch “Everybody Loves Raymond” and at 7.30 I may choose to watch “Sharktank” instead of the next episode of “Raymond Whines Constantly” (let’s face it, it’s his voice). PitcherWe switch up our hairstyles, our facial hair (full-beard vs. frenchie), our wardrobes, our choice of ice-cream flavors, our phones, our phone cases… almost everything.

Why stop when it comes to your online course? Sure you can set it up on auto-pilot for your students – read the chapter, go through the slides, discuss this very important question, and take the quiz. But, what if you switch it up and throw them some curve-balls every once in a while? Don’t worry about delivering the content in the easiest way, just focus on the content itself. Can the concept be conveyed better by an animation found in NASA’s multimedia repository? How about a Khan Academy video explaining how to balance an equation? Maybe create a discovery game or treasure hunt to unravel a criminal justice case study. The possibilities are endless.

Switch it up! Just because you have the students take a different road, doesn’t mean they won’t reach their destination and meet you on the other side (no pun intended Adele).

5. Ask for Help

Rome was not built in a day. And certainly not by one person.

Help buttonI have shared a ton of ideas and am sure that you cannot wait to get started on implementing all of them right away! Well, you don’t have to do it on your own. Our team is here to help.

We are confident that with your ideas and creativity, and our motivation and enthusiasm, not to mention the undying support provided by Google and YouTube, we can help you create the best version of your online course for your soon-to-be-delighted students.

Don’t be shy to ask for help, we are here for you!

Images from